As draft day draws near, we are all scrambling to find 'our guy' at the end of the 1st Round. Some of us have 'our guy,' while others are still indifferent about several players. Of course there is nothing wrong with having an open mind about several players. Nobody can argue that our biggest needs lie in the Front 7. We need another pass rusher at ROLB and a DE that can pressure the QB. Does that guarantee that we will pick a DE or OLB in the 1st Round? I highly doubt that's the case, so lets take a look at a few guys we could target in the 2012 NFL Draft. I will use CBS Sports Prospect Rankings Chart for the value of the players.
Clearly we would have to trade up in the 1st Round to select Kirkpatrick. This may be worth considering if he starts sliding down the draft in the early 20s. Kirkpatrick is widely regarded as a shutdown CB and has the height Green Bay typically seeks at the CB position. He stands at 6'2 and has long arms to compete with tall WR's for the ball. He is the ideal CB for press coverage due to his physical abilities.
Position- Strong Safety
Barron is a potential target if Nick Collins career is cut short. If we need to seek a replacement for Collins, there's a lot to like about Safety Mark Barron. He's a physical Safety that rarely misses tackles. He is another excellent example in why Alabama had a dominant defense last year. He has the ideal height and strength you seek in a Safety and does a great job moving through traffic. The only problems with Barron is that he has average speed and stiff hips, so he can't change directions well. Don't let that dismiss your thoughts on Barron though, because his number one asset is his instincts. He's a play-maker and he will make his presence known.
Position- Inside Linebacker
Why in the world is Donta Hightower on the list?! Nevertheless, it's because of AJ Hawk. Look no further than Hawk's contract, and you will recognize that he is vulnerable to being released after the 2012 Season. Ted Thompson has a tendency to draft towards future needs, and picking Hightower would be a typical Ted Thompson pick in that regard. Hightower is similar to Hawk in that he struggles in pass coverage and isn't that fast, but he can do what Hawk can't. Hightower can play the strong side Inside Linebacker position, and he has the long arms to shed blocks. He is very aggressive and excels at stopping the run and rushing the passer. Adding Hightower would likely give Dom Capers more flexibility in his blitz packages as Hightower is a far better pass rusher than AJ Hawk. We would likely see more blitzes from the ILB positions as he is capable of shedding blocks.
Position- Outside Linebacker
If there's one thing to like about Andre Branch, it's that he is always getting better. Each year he played, he improved. He is by no means a one year wonder and he strives to get better. He's an ideal 3-4 OLB as he's fluid and has a good set of pass rush moves. He is explosive off the line, but is a bit inconsistent in that regard. With more experience, he should be able to improve on that flaw. He's a bit raw as a pass rusher, but there is still a lot of untapped talent. He has all the intangibles you seek in a pass rushing OLB.
Position- 3-4 DE
College- Mississippi State
None of us managed to escape the never ending complaints of not successfully replacing Cullen Jenkins. There are a lot of members here that believe we must get a 3-4 DE in the 1st Round to repeat our 2010 success. The good news is Fletcher Cox is a capable pass rusher with a lot of upside. The bad news is we will likely have to trade up to get him. He shows excellent athleticism and pass rush ability, although he's a bit raw. Sometimes he can be a bit overly aggressive, but it's his aggressive ability that makes him so good. Getting Cox could very well be finding gold, but it will likely come at a price.
Position- 3-4 DE
College- Michigan State
Worthy is a DT that most Big 10 College Football fans are familiar with. He was a disruptive force when rushing the QB. He isn't recognized for getting sacks, but he does generate a ton of pressure on the QB. He has a solid swim move to get him past the OL and has the strength to occupy blockers, but he does need to refine his pass rushing moves to beat NFL Guards. Scouts question his stamina going into the 4th Quarter, but he should be ok playing in a rotation. He's not an elite prospect, but he is a good prospect.
Position- 3-4 DE
College- Penn State
Devon Still might be perhaps the best run stopping lineman in the draft. He has a lot of work to do to generate a consistent pass rush, but he does have the ability to collapse the pocket with an effective bull rush. Scouts question his stamina going deep into the 4th Quarter, but if he's a part of a rotation, that flaw may be neutralized. The other knock on Still is he was ineffective against the better linemen in college. If he couldn't beat some of the better collegiate OG's, how will he fare against NFL linemen? That is another flaw that can be coached up. The immediate impact Still will make is his ability to stop the run. His pass rushing skills will develop over time.
Position- 3-4 DE
Kendall Reyes is a very smart player with outstanding intangibles. He's nothing worth bragging about as a pass rusher, but he does make wow plays and is recognized as a leader of the defense. If he can work on his hand placement, he may turn into a stud pass rusher. For now, he isn't that man. He may become a dominant pass rusher in a few years, but it will take some patience and good coaching to get it done. I unfortunately couldn't dig up many highlights of Reyes, so I had to settle for this one in 2010 against Pittsburgh.
These are several targets we could potentially draft next month. If you had to make a big board ranking these guys (and someone else if you'd like), how would your big board look for only the 1st Round?